Google Analytics can be intimidating.
It boasts a wealth of data, numbers, charts and terminology. And the platform can be challenging to navigate and understand.
In this blog, our digital team shares the basics of Google Analytics — including must-know terminology – so you’ll be able to jump into the dashboard with confidence.
To derive the full benefit of the information presented here, make sure Google Analytics is set up on your business’s website before reading.
Table of Contents
The Home Page
You’ll enter Google Analytics on its Home page, which includes a variety of data. Each metric reveals helpful information about the performance of your website.
By default, the overview on the Home page compares all data to the time period prior to the period being measured. So at a quick glance, you’ll be able to ascertain whether the performance of your website has improved or declined.
See example below.
This data indicates the number of individuals who visited your website in a given time period (28 days, in this case, as specified at the bottom).
Google identifies individuals by assigning them a unique identifier, often via a single, first-party cookie.
A session is generated by a user. One session encompasses the total number of actions a user takes on your website. This can include looking at different pages, adding items to a cart or sharing a page on social media.
By default, a session lasts until there is 30 minutes of inactivity. If a user returns to the website after that time period, it is counted as a new session.
You will typically have more sessions than users. That’s because users often return to a website, creating multiple sessions.
The bounce rate is the percentage of single-page sessions that occur on your website divided by the total number of sessions. So every time a user navigates to one page and leaves, your bounce rate will increase.
On average, we’d agree with RocketFuel’s assertion that a bounce rate in the range of 26 to 40 percent is excellent, 41 to 55 percent is roughly average, and 56 to 70 percent is higher than average.
However, if you’re looking at the bounce rate for a landing page – a standalone web page designed for one specific purpose, such as a product promotion with a single call to action — the bounce rate will likely be higher than normal.
Additionally, the bounce rate of sessions originating from social media may also be higher than those from other traffic sources. That’s because many people click through to a one web page but navigate back to the social media platform after consuming the content there.
This is the amount of time a user spends on your website. Frequently this time indicates the quality and relevance of your website to the user.
Often, increasing the amount of time spent on a page will lead to more conversions, whether that be email signups, contact form submissions or purchases.
The Audience Section: Who visits your website?
One of the most important parts of your Google Analytics is the Audience section.
At the bottom, the overview provides links to navigate to demographics, systems (think browser or operating system), information on mobile devices and the most common languages of users to your site. See example below.
At the top of this section is a bird’s-eye view of many of the same statistics found on the Home page. But there also are three new data points:
This is the total number of times your website’s pages were viewed by users. Repeated views are counted in this number. That means one user could account for multiple pageviews if they navigate away from a page and then back to that page.
As noted earlier, pageviews will typically be higher than the number of users because people frequently visit more than one page of your website.
Also called Average Page Depth, this is the average number of pages a user views during his or her session. Similar to pageviews, repeated views of a single page are counted in that number.
This can give you a good idea of how much of your website most users are viewing.
For example, if you have a 50-page website and most users are visiting on average 2 pages, there may be an issue with the navigation or the content of your site.
Percentage of New Sessions
This is an estimate of first-time visits to your website, or the number of sessions generated from new users divided by the sessions generated from return users.
The percentage of new sessions is important to monitor if you’re working to increase awareness of your business or offering a promotion to increase leads. In both of those cases, you would want this percentage to be higher than normal.
Digging into Your Audience Data
The Overview of the Audience section is just the first layer of information Google Analytics provides. Clicking the tabs allows you to sift through data including:
- The age and gender of users
- Interests that users to your website have
- Behavior, which shows how many people are new users, the amount of sessions users generate and how long users are on your website
- Users Flow, which shows you how people typically navigate through your website
These insights can remove the mystery about who your audience is, allowing you to better customize your website, search engine marketing and other digital initiatives.
The Acquisition Section: How do people get to your website?
This section tracks how people are finding your website by showing the channels that bring them to it.
Most businesses see these channels when they’re in the Overview part of the Acquisition section.
Organic Search traffic is generated by individuals who find your website through a search engine such as Google or Bing.
This is one of the best ways to track whether or not a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign is working. If your organic traffic has been increasing, the campaign is going successfully.
This type of traffic comes from people who are typing your website URL directly into the address bar of browsers.
A large amount of direct traffic can indicate good brand awareness within your target audience.
However, it could also signal that you need to set up a filter within Google Analytics that eliminates traffic from your business’s (or possibly even your home’s) IP address, since employees and business owners often navigate to their own website like this.
This number represents traffic that arrives at your website via a social media network. That includes traffic from traditional channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but also platforms like Yelp and YouTube.
If you’re not sharing links to your website on social media — or if your profiles do not contain links to your website — this channel will have little to no sessions.
Referral traffic is generated from users who arrive at your website by clicking a link on another website.
For example, if your business is listed on the local chamber of commerce’s website, a user who clicks that link to your website would show up under this channel.
Other Possible Channels
Any marketing campaign can be made into a new channel. However, some other common channels that frequently pop up include:
- Email, which is generated by email marketing campaigns
- An “(Other)” channel, which is generated if you’re sharing trackable links like UTMs (learn more about that here)
- Paid, which includes your business’s ads that show up in search engine results
- Display, which is generated by banner ads or ads that display on other websites
A Final Tip on Traffic
Make sure you’ve enabled Google Search Console (under the SEO tab in the Acquisition section).
This tool allows you to collect data about the keywords that lead to your website showing up in search results, as well as which ones that lead to people clicking through to your website.
The Behavior Section: What do people do on my website?
This section reveals how people interact with your website.
In the Overview, many of the same stats from the Audience, Acquisition and Home page are shown.
However, a section at the bottom reveals which pages of your website generate the most views.
And if you want to dig deeper into how people interact with your website, here’s a quick outline of what you can discover.
This data reveals how people travel from one page or Event to another web page or event.
This type of information might reveal that customers tend to move through your website differently than expected. This could prompt changes in design and navigation to better serve the user experience.
Site content provides insights on how each page of your website is performing.
This includes information about the first page people typically see, as well as the last page they’re on before they exit your site. It also includes information on which pages people view the most and how long they’re spending on pages.
This data can be used to improve pages of your site. For example, adding a next step or call-to-action on the last page people see before exiting your website may improve the time spent on that page and possibly lead to a conversion.
Not surprisingly, site speed reveals how long it takes for different pages on your website to load.
This data is indispensable. That’s because it can often help you better understand why people are behaving as they do. For instance, a page with a high bounce rate may also have a long loading time.
For websites with an internal search bar, this data shows what people are typing into the bar.
For a skincare company, the data might show a lot of searches for “sensitive skin products.” As a result, the company might create a specific page for related products, or feature them on the home page.
This tab details user interactions with the website other than a pageview, such as a download or a video view. Events need to be set up manually and can be done with little to no coding knowledge in Tag Manager. (Learn more here.)
Events are helpful because they can track the interactions that matter most to you. For a retailer, a video view of a product or a click of the “buy now” button would likely be a must-track Event.
Linking your website to an AdSense or Ad Exchange account pulls all the advertising data into Google Analytics. So instead of logging into another dashboard, you can get all of your information in Google Analytics.
The Conversions Section: How many people are doing what you want them to do?
This section of Google Analytics is extremely helpful, but it does take setup and implementation in order for it to work.
Basically, this section tracks any type of goal that you set up. For most businesses, conversions include:
- Email signups
- Product purchases
- Contact form completion
- A download
Google can track each one of these goals, and it also allows you to assign monetary values to them.
This shows an outline of how each goal is performing, as well as where people are completing the goal, and even where they are before completing the goal.
So basically, you’ll be able to see if people are actually doing the actions you want them to do on your website. And if they are, you’ll see what is helping them get to that point.
This section allows businesses to track product purchases and collect data on product sales, purchase amounts and billing locations.
The benefit is that all of your marketing and website efforts are in one place. You’ll be easily able to track different campaigns and the overall success of products.
This is one of our favorite sections of Google Analytics because it reveals everything that contributed to the completion of a goal.
It also reveals how long it typically takes for a customer to convert and what the top path of conversion is.
With the Multi-Channel Funnel, you’ll see each facet of your marketing and advertising efforts that are contributing to conversions. This will help you better understand the customer journey and track the return-on-investment of campaigns.
What’s the next step?
Understanding and using Google Analytics is a must for every business. Through the platform, you can gain valuable insights into who your users are and how to improve their online experience.
If you’re just getting started with the platform, a good next step would be to check out Google’s Analytics Academy for Beginners, which walks through every part of the platform in depth.
But if you’re not sure how or where to get started, reach out to our digital marketing team today with your questions. We can help you get set up and on the path to success, whatever your experience level.